January 30, 1950 [Gun Crazy]

The Bonnie-and-Clyde couple in Gun Crazy are crazy all right, but “guns” certainly are mere stand-ins for what they’re really crazy about: each other. How close can Hollywood get to sex itself? Only to the nickel-plated tip of a firmly held pistol. But that is enough in this movie: John Dall, the scrawny kid with the restless mouth, widens his eyes and licks his lips, always moving toward Peggy Cummins’ Annie Laurie Starr, full of sweet-eyed smiles and ripe promise, playing at something a little to the left of Veronica Lake--and soaked in mad love, the vamp who in the end doesn’t want It All, just her boyfriend, their steady hands grasping, sure-shots all the way.

Funny thing: I didn’t realize at first that I was watching John Dall, the best friend without a conscience from Rope. He seemed so lost as Bart, Young Man with a Gun--his childhood played out in an efficient first act, the dead-eye who can’t kill, whose hands curl in terror at the thought of it--but those hands also obsessively clench the gun, his youth shaped along the length of the firearms he covets. When he isn’t taking aim, Bart is never sure where to look, his uncertainty relieved only when he sees Annie--and with all the force of distracted youth he grabs her, again and again, happy to take the big death just as long as they have their little deaths, on the run, in the fleabag hotels--and most dreamlike of all, in the high-altitude marsh, shrouded in mist, the light rising just enough for them to crawl in the mud and embrace one more time.

Earlier, when they rob a bank--a scene offered as a generous gift of genius by the director, one Joseph Lewis, the camera in the back seat of the getaway car, everything happening elsewhere, the tension great--but the two of them like any old married couple, wondering about parking spaces, traffic--“Watch out for that rock,” Bart warns Annie--the loot in their hands, the law fading behind them; it’s here that I can see their end as they stand on it and take off, heedless of the best way home--which for Bart is back to his childhood, up there in the mountains where he can’t kill a thing, so he has to be killed, a kind of instruction he has been waiting for all his life--and Laurie, too, giving up all those fine things she kept saying she wanted, in it for the dough--but staying for Bart, grimy and doomed, but oh so much in love.


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